In the latest instalment of the European Senior Tour Player Focus series, www.europeantour.com gets to know Australian trick-shot expert Dave Merriman, runner up in last year’s Ryder Cup Wales Seniors Open, and finds out about his growing army of fans.
Commentators are sometimes heard to decry the lack of ‘characters’ in modern sport but in Dave Merriman the European Senior Tour has its own player who is larger than life.
Joke teller, trick shot expert and Facebook cult hero, Merriman has shown through his performances that he should be taken seriously on the course with some fine performances, including two top ten finishes already this season.
The amiable Australian enjoyed his best season to date on the Senior Tour in 2009, finishing 13th in the Order of Merit after three top ten finishes, including runner-up to South African Bertus Smit in the lucrative Ryder Cup Wales Seniors Open at Royal Porthcawl Golf Club – a venue and an event he returns to this week.
Merriman will perhaps remember last season as much for the unlikely friendship he developed with some Senior Tour fans following a rogue shot at the Travis Perkins plc Senior Masters at Woburn Golf Club at the end of the previous season.
After sharing a joke with the Sydney-based player, a group of spectators followed Merriman for the remainder of his round and subsequently set up a ‘Dave Merriman Appreciation Society’ group on social networking site Facebook.
Dave’s “Band of Merrimen” were at Royal Porthcawl to see his best Senior Tour finish to date, in the Ryder Cup Wales Seniors Open, and have been following his performances ever since their initial encounter, complete with catchphrase 'Shot Dave'.
“It’s awesome how that started,” recalled Merriman. “I hit my ball over the back of the green at Woburn and the guys were following Ross Drummond, who I was playing with, as their mate was caddying for him.
“I walked over the back of the green and said ‘I can’t believe you guys didn’t at least kick it back for me’, just making a joke, and they said ‘who are you?’. I said Merriman, Dave Merriman, like Robin Hood and his Merry Men.
“That’s how it started and after that they followed me and started a Facebook group and turned up at the next tournament at Stoke-by-Nayland dressed up as Robin Hood. We’ve actually become really good mates. I keep in touch with them all the time now and get emails from them.
“They turned up at Wales last year in their Dave Merriman t-shirts. My wife Kelsey, who normally caddies for me, was a little under the weather and I actually got one of the guys to caddie for me in the tournament. He’d never caddied before in his whole life and I finished second so it was a huge buzz for him.
“They are really nice guys and I think it’s good for the Senior Tour that things like that happened. It’s good for me too and helps promote the Tour and tournaments.
After winning the Qualifying School at the first attempt in 2006, Merriman finished a solid 22nd on the Order of Merit in each of his first two seasons on the Senior Tour.
But in the wind and the rain at Royal Porthcawl, in Wales, Merriman showed that perhaps a victory is just around the corner and he has carried that form into the current season, with six top 20 finishes so far, including a share of seventh place in The Aberdeen Brunei Senior Masters presented by The Stapleford Forum and tied fourth in the Matrix Jersey Classic.
“Last year was a bit of an up and down year,” he reflected. “I had a good tournament in Wales which kicked my season off and got me going but it was a bit up and down after that. I played solid all year though. The only difference between a 69 and a 72 most weeks was my putting.
“When you look at the Order of Merit, last year was my best year but I felt like I didn’t play that well – I just had a couple of good tournaments. I actually played better during my first two years but nothing really happened – I played well in the wrong tournaments. Last year I played steady but had a couple of nice finishes.
“My goal before the first year was to keep the card and finish in the top 30 and the second year was to finish top 15 and I finished 22nd again and last year I set my goal as top ten. I’m heading in the right direction anyway!”
While breaking into the Order of Merit top ten – he currently sits 14th - and landing a maiden title might be the overall goal for 2010, the 56 year old is keen to ensure he does not lose the fun side to is game that has made him so popular among spectators.
Merriman is a huge hit during Pro-Am’s where he is prone to breaking into the odd trick shot routine that has become his signature.
“It all started when I was a club professional, as I have been most of my life, and I played in a few tournaments and Pro-Ams in Australia,” he said.
“You get together with a few mates on the range and you start skylarking around and you do a trick and they show you one and over a ten or 15 year period I learned about 20 trick shots.
“I took it into the corporate scene and I did a lot of corporate days back in Australia and included them all. Everyone has seen stuff like how do you grip it, how do you fade it, before and it gets a bit boring so I started doing corporate days incorporating the basics of golf but with trick shots as well.
“It evolved that way – hitting balls out of balloons, off the high tees, left handed and sitting in chairs – all that sort of stuff.
“I love doing them. I do a few of them for the guys in the Pro-Ams on the Senior Tour too – I turn my right handed driver upside down to make it left handed. They love it and I think it’s a bit of entertainment for the guys.”
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